When I first designed Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic almost ten years ago, music publishing was a side of the music business about which even many major record label executives knew embarrassingly little. Today, the music publishing model is in many ways the foundation of the music business—an industry built on licensing rights, rather than selling physical product. Every band wants their song in a commercial or a video game; every investment company wants to own a collection of classic songs. To enter the music business today without a knowledge of music publishing is to be missing an essential source of income. More importantly, it’s means that you’re missing a source of income that continues to grow, even as the record business continues to contract.

As we head into September, there’s no better time to take the plunge and enter into the world of music publishing. Music Publishing 101 is a step by step walk through the process of starting your own publishing venture—it’s designed so that by the end of the course, you’ll be positioned to hit the ground running in the music publishing biz. Best of all, you’ll be learning from people who are industry veterans—not only myself, but people like my buddy Jon Bonci, who teach the course.

Jon Bonci started out as a songwriter and eventually went on to work in some of the top companies in the music industry. As a young songwriter, after building a recording studio in his parents’ house, Jon decided he wanted to be more involved in the music business.  This led him to get a job at a record company answering phones. From there, a music business weasel was born–  he went on to work at Warner Chappell Music as an archivist and tape room manager, and later worked at BMG Music Publishing and Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc. He is currently working in music supervising for ESPN and teaching the Music Publishing 101 class.  In this blog, Jorge Oliveres, my Berklee College of Music intern, asks Jon  for his insight about the course.


What are the main things students will learn about in Music Publishing 101?

 It’s different for each student. Certain students don’t know a thing about music publishing, others are in a band and they want to learn more about it. Then there are those who have known about it and want to learn as much as they can and use it to the best of their advantage.  Having a variety of students is nice because we get different viewpoints when we discuss things on the chats.

Last semester I had someone doing artist management. I told him that the more he knows about music publishing, the better. If you are an artist manager, or if you’re managing a house and band comes in, you can actually cherry pick bands and manage them, get them a record deal, and if you know enough about music publishing, possibly act as their publisher as well. Knowledge is power. If you want to work in artist management, you’re going to have to know everything: not just on the record label side, but also on the music publishing side. For people in all different parts of the music world, this class will come in very handy.

I was going to ask you if there is a typical Music Publishing 101 student but  from what you are telling me, it sounds like the students are pretty diverse.

I’ll have a kid who is 21 years old, at the same time that I have people who are in their 60’s. That’s what’s great about teaching online. Anyone can access what Berklee has to offer, anywhere they are in the world. As a publisher, one of the biggest kicks I have is setting up collaborations. If I can put people together who like each other enough to be friends the rest of their life, even if they never write a song, then I think it’s a big success. A lot of times things come from collaboration–songwriters might end up enjoying each other’s company or helping each other out with their music. You never know where it can lead. If students in the class write similarly to each other, I tell them they should get together and work over the phone or the computer. We do quite a bit with an online class.

Often, songwriters take the class because they want to know about music publishing. Having been a music publisher myself, I know that a publisher is supposed to be more like the businessperson who is a step away from the songs. When you’re a songwriter,  you think that every song you just wrote is the best song in the world… until you write the next one. It’s interesting to teach students to be as objective as they can about their music, to see how it holds up against what’s out there.

If you’re going to pitch a song to a music supervisor or to an A&R person, you only get one shot. Those people learn right away whether or not you have ears. If they let you come back again and you keep giving them what they don’t want, they’ll say, “This guy is a songwriter, he is too close the music, and he doesn’t really know what’s what.” You have to be objective about your music because you only get one shot to make a first impression.

So students will really get an idea of what publishers look for when they listen to songs…

 You get placed on both sides of the desk: the writer’s side and the publisher’s side.

It’s a great class, it’s well mapped out, and when you read Eric’s writing he almost has the same voice as I do: he’s got a really good sense of humor, he’s frank, he’s upfront, he’s candid, he tells it like it is. It’s been a real pleasure dealing with the class. And Berklee has just been fantastic. Berklee is the kind of school that you just say the word and it opens doors for people. I tell that to my students as well: if the first thing you mention when you are trying to get a job somewhere is that you are a student at Berklee, it’s going to help you. It’s prestigious.

Because the class is online and you can have people from all over the world, does it deal with music publishing at an international level?

Yes. Eric has worked hard to give the class a strong international perspective. For example, in some countries the society that handles performing rights also handles mechanical royalty income, whereas in the United States everything is separated out. Also, we have three societies here for performance rights whereas most countries just have one. This leaves people there with no choice; they have to go with what they have. I actually had a student in the Middle East from a country where they don’t have a performance rights society set up. She wanted to know how she could set something like that up herself.

Now is a time of constant change for the music industry. How does the class help students keep up with those changes?

Since we really don’t know where the music business is going, having an online class is good because it can constantly be updated. For example, when the ruling came down on the new royalty rates for streaming and digital downloads, Eric put that within the course work as well.  You get the best of both worlds in the class; you get a class that is constantly being tweaked by people who are in the industry every day.


Follow me on twitter @EricBeall

The Best Laid Plans

Dec 30 2010

It’s as reliable as catching a cold at Christmas. As the glow of the festivities fades away, this time of post-holiday leisure brings on that old inevitable urge… to re-evaluate, re-examine, re-assess and re-formulate what we’re doing and how we’re doing it and where were headed in the upcoming year. It’s business strategy season again, where hope springs eternal, everything is possible, and for one shining moment, nothing can go wrong. Because of course, we’re not actually doing anything. We’re only planning to do stuff, and it all looks good on paper.

I just did it myself actually. While I was stranded in an airport with the rest of America, I spent a couple of hours breaking down the whole year into nice manageable chunks, setting goals and strategies for each songwriter on my roster, delegating all the things that take up the time that I need to do those other more important things which I never do, and making a list of all the potential opportunities I should be cashing in on before it’s too late. If all goes according to experience, the plan will be falling apart by the time Midem rolls around at the end of January, and forgotten soon after. What can I say? I try.

I’m not making excuses—I’m well aware that much of the problem is me. Like most music business weasels, I’m better at seeing potential than realizing it, and better at making promises than delivering.

But part of the problem is also the nature of the music industry. Tied as it is to the fickle, ever-changing tastes of the public, and dependent as it is on the sudden magic of inspiration to create hit songs or turn ordinary aspiring artists into superstars, it just isn’t a business that rewards a rigid adherence to strategy. Of course, you want to know where you’re going. But you need to be a kind of human GPS, re-calibrating at every missed turn to find a new route to the destination.

In my book, “Making Music Make Money”, I addressed the challenge of formulating a business plan in an ever-shifting terrain—the equivalent of building a house during an earthquake. The key is to remain flexible. In the book, instead of a formal business plan, I offered up a little drill called “The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz”. It’s not a plan, but rather a series of questions to help you focus your mind on:
….what you’re trying to do
…what your challenges are
….and what resources you have, or will need to have, in order to overcome those challenges.

Because it’s not a specific strategy, it’s not something that you toss to the wind as soon as something changes. It’s also not something you only do once a year. In fact, it’s worth doing every 3-4 months, updating and reconsidering your answers as your life and your career progress.

A lot of the readers of “Making Music Make Money” have commented that the Pop Quiz was one of the most helpful things in the book—so many in fact that I decided to incorporate it into my class, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com. I’ve walked dozens of students through it, helping them to start analyzing their market, acknowledging their potential network of contacts, and recognizing the opportunities that they have in front of them. Just because we live in the highly unpredictable and volatile world of show business doesn’t mean we can’t think intelligently about our business. We simply can’t do the same kind of long-term planning as people in a steadier line of work.

So to ease you into the new year, and to save you the frustration of a January business plan that’s disintegrating by Valentine’s Day, here’s an abbreviated version of “The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz”. It might seem simple, but be forewarned—you’ll get out of it as much as you put in. The more time you spend researching, contemplating and developing detailed answers to the tough questions, the more likely it is that you’ll stumble on that one big idea that transforms your business.

If it seems easy, you’re not thinking hard enough—especially these days. Nothing in the music business is easy right now—so don’t fool yourself with quick, simple answers like “I just have to make music that’s better than everyone else” or “My market is growing”. Everyone thinks they make better music than everyone else, and, at present, no one’s market is growing. The challenge is to make a plan that addresses that reality.

Good luck, both for the quiz and for the new year. Here’s to Happy Weaseling in 2011!!!

The Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz

1. What is your primary market?

2. Who is your competition?

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leading companies in your particular market? How can you imitate those strengths?
How can you exploit the weaknesses?

4. What strategies have been used successfully in this market previously?

5. What does your target audience look like?

6. Is your market growing or shrinking?

7. In what city or cities are most of the companies in your market based?

8. What are the advantages and disadvantages or your current location?

9. What segment of the market is the most crowded with competition?

10. What is the most under-served part of the market?

11. What reactions are you getting to your songs? What part of the market is reacting most positively? Which is reacting with the least enthusiasm?

12. What are the musical strengths and weaknesses of your catalog?

13. What are your strength and weaknesses as a business? How can you best utilize your strengths? How can you best compensate for your weaknesses?

14. What information do you need to compete in your market? How can you get that information?

15. More importantly, what relationships do you need to have in order to compete?

16. How can you meet those key people, or people that know the key people?

17. What relationships do you already have?

18. What equipment or supplies do you need in order to operate effectively?

19. How much money do you have to spend on your business?

And finally, one multiple choice. This one counts double.

20. At present, what is the biggest obstacle to your success? Is it:

(a) Creative—Weakness in the catalog or demo presentation
(b) Financial—Lack of capital for business expenditures
(c) Social—Shortage of productive personal relationships and industry contacts
(d) Technical—Need for musical or office equipment or technology
(e) Informational—Lack of knowledge regarding the industry or business in general
(f) Structural—Are you in a declining or nonexistent market?

Don't Get The Drift

Oct 01 2010

None of us enjoy going under the knife, but sometimes it’s the only thing that will make you better.

One of the publishing companies I used to work for had a dreaded bi-annual event called “blue book”, which for most of the creative department at the company was about as enticing as a root canal and lasted twice as long. At the “blue book” meeting, all the heads of the various offices (Nashville, LA, New York, London) and their creative staffs would convene in front of the company owner and president to review the overall financial results for the past six months, and make some predictions for the upcoming period. That was the easy part.

The ordeal would then proceed to a songwriter by songwriter review of the entire roster, examining not only the current activity of each composer, but also the financial realities. How much had the writer been advanced? How much had been recouped? How much was out there to be collected? When was the next advance due? What were the chances of ever moving the deal from red ink to black?

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, the truth of almost every large publishing company is that most of the bills are being paid either by back catalog (songs controlled by the company for many years, but written by writers who have long since moved on) or by a tiny handful of current writers, perhaps 10% of the whole roster, who bring in 90% of the income. Ironically, those super-successful writers are usually self-contained business entities, who need little support from the creative staff at the publishing company, and often have very little contact with their publishers beyond cashing the royalty checks. From a “blue-book” standpoint, that means it’s pretty hard for the Creative Director to claim much credit for the success of the top ten percent. Instead, you’re left squirming in your chair, trying to explain to the owner of the company what happened to the other 90%. It focuses the mind, that’s for sure.

And that’s the point. The danger of making a career out of songwriting is not outright failure. In fact, that’s almost impossible. After all, songwriting is not actually a business–it’s just something you do. No one can force you to stop. No one can fire you. The danger of a profession like songwriting is:

The drift.

Years go by. Opportunities arise, but never quite pan out. More songs are written. A few contacts are made, but people move on, change positions, you lose touch. There are a few good breaks, but the timing is wrong and the chance to follow up on them is lost. More years go by.

“Blue-book” was bad. But drift is worse. That’s why music publishing is an essential element in making a career out of songwriting. Because music publishing is indeed a business. It has rules, and the process of keeping score is very clear. If you’re making money– at least more than you’re spending– then you’re winning. If you’re not, then you better beware of drift.

It’s the end of September, and as most songwriters and artists who have publishing deals or record deals will recognize, that means royalty statements for the past six months are starting to arrive in the mailbox. Like it or not, that’s the scorecard. If you want to make writing or publishing music your career, at some point you have to start to do the math. Of course, if you have a DIY model for your company, you don’t have to wait for a twice-yearly royalty statement– you can do the numbers month by month. Either way, this is a good time to put on your publisher hat and do your own “blue-book” review. It’s not something most of us look forward to. But it’s the only way to stop the drift.

Ask yourself:

Is your music generating enough money upon which to build a profitable business?
Does the money you make with your music cover the expense of making it?
Is your music doing what you want it to do, and reaching your audience?
Are you seeing consistent, measurable growth?

These are tough questions, and for most of us, the answers are not all positive. As I pointed out earlier, you’re not alone in that. For any Creative Director in a large publisher, there are always more challenges than success stories. The point is not the analysis of the current situation, but what you’re going to do next. When your boss asks you to explain how you’re going to recoup a six-figure advance to a singer-songwriter who’s just been dropped by her record label, you either have a coughing fit, or you get creative very quickly. Advocating “perseverance and more of the same” does not go over well. The role of the publisher is to come up with strategies for success.

I can’t give you the specific formula to change the trajectory of your songwriting career, or the career of one of the writers whom you publish. In fact, any strategy you employ will be changing all the time, like a GPS that keeps re-adjusting for every wrong turn or missed exit.

But I can give you a framework that should direct your thinking, focus your approach and inspire your creativity about how to end the drift and restore some forward motion to what’s happening with your music. Like any good battle plan, you start with a knowledge of the terrain and the challenges you’ll face, and then figure out how to adapt to the situation. Here are 8 Strategies for Success, to get you started:

1. Know Your Market and See What’s Working.
If you’re a dance music producer, you generally need to either be a DJ or work with one. If you’re a rapper, you need to be part of a local crew of similar artists. Most rock bands start with a live following. There are paths out there, and you need to try to get on them.

2. Know Your Audience and Give Them What They Want.
Most songwriters never figure out what they’re aiming at. Understand who buys the kind of music you make, why they buy it, how they listen to it, and what they do when they listen to it. Then give it to them the way they like it. If you understand the nature of the audience for Ke$ha, Rihanna, Toby Keith, or Drake, it’s not hard to understand their success. Successful songs and artists are mirrors, reflecting to their audience an idealized picture of who the audience wishes they could be.

3. Know What’s Missing and Provide It.
Every market has gaps in it, in which a segment of the audience isn’t finding what they want. The smart songwriters and artists don’t go where everyone else already is– they find the gap and fill it. Say what you want, but Justin Bieber filled a gap. So did Lady Gaga. So did Taylor Swift.

4. Know What You Do Best and Do It.
The modern music industry is a business of specialists, not generalists. As a songwriter, you are being brought in because you are a specialist in a particular market, genre, or style. There are very few examples of people who are specialists in three or four different musical areas. By diversifying and trying to write in four or five genres at once, you are not increasing your chances of success. You are exposing yourself as a generalist. There are songwriters who earn a fortune solely for programming drum beats, coming up with guitar riffs, or blurting out lyric concepts. That’s because they do that one thing better than anyone else in the world.

5. Know Your Weakness and Fix It.
If you know what you do best, it should be easy to acknowledge that there are places where you fall short. It only matters if you choose not to fix it. If your lyrics are weak, then collaborate. If your demo production is dull, then find a producer or engineer and put him or her on the team. If you can’t sing, don’t. There are people that do these things. Hire them.

6. Know What’s Changing and Change With It.
Nothing stays the same. That’s true not only of audience tastes, but of marketing strategies, the structure of the industry, and the role of music in society. If you’re a hip-hop artist still talking about “Crips and Bloods”, you missed the game change. Ditto for the songwriters still writing big “Disney” ballads for the Celine Dion types. Time marches on.

7. Know Where The Money Is and Go There.
Just because a style of music is out of fashion in one place doesn’t mean it’s out of fashion everywhere. A good friend of mine, a legendary songwriter from LA with a boatload of pop hits from the mid-1980′s, recently did a deal in Japan, to re-record some of his best known songs. It seems there’s a market for smooth, West Coast 80′s American pop in Asia. If you do something well, there’s usually a land of opportunity somewhere. You just have to find it.

8. Know Who You Need To Know and Get To Know Them.
Meeting people is a random accident. Networking is a business strategy. You build a network by identifying who you need on your team, figuring out ways to meet them, and then, most importantly, thinking strategically about how those contacts fit together.

Not only do most songwriters fail to think strategically, a large number of them actually refuse. They are determined to write what they feel, ignore the distinctions between one genre and another, insist that their audience can and should include everyone from teenyboppers to grandparents, and make the market come to them. For a very select few, it occasionally works. But if after your careful “blue-book” career reassessment, it’s clear that what you’re doing isn’t working, you might need to consider a change. Especially if you want to make your music not just a hobby, but a career. You can’t just let it drift.

A strategic approach to songwriting is what my upcoming workshop, “The Hit Factory: Making Your Music Make Money ” is all about. It’s a one-day, 6 hour workshop that includes song review and discussion, all aimed at developing an effective business around your songwriting. I’ll be doing the workshop in partnership with New York’s Songhall, on:

Saturday, November 6th, 10am-4:30pm at Shetler Studios in Manhattan.

I had the opportunity to lead this workshop last year, and it was a sell-out, so contact the SongHall now if you want to reserve a spot. Hope to see you there!


Ready, Fire… Aim!

Sep 24 2010

Here is the story of how professional songwriting works:

One hundred people go to a firing range to take target practice. Of that hundred people, ninety of the shooters are wearing blindfolds. They can’t see a thing. Not surprisingly, they’ re blasting off bullets in every direction—in the air, in the ground, behind them, at each other. Nothing is hitting the target except by sheer luck.

Of the remaining ten people, five of the marksmen are not wearing blindfolds, but they have poor vision and they’re not wearing their eyeglasses. So these five people can see the target vaguely, but it’s very blurry, and they can’t focus enough to really get all that close to the bullseye with any consistency.

The final five shooters have normal 20-20 vision, and they’re not wearing blindfolds. They’re staring straight at the target and pulling the trigger. While they’re not hitting their mark every time, they’re consistently able to get somewhere near the center of the target.

Have you ever wondered how it is that some songwriters (like Dr. Luke, Will.I.Am, Max Martin, RedOne, Alicia Keys, or Ryan Tedder at this particular moment in time) can consistently come up with hit song after hit song, while the vast majority of songwriters struggle to even get a cut? As a publisher, I certainly have.

One of the first things I noticed when I entered the world of music publishing after having been a songwriter for many years, was the vast imbalance that characterizes the writer roster of almost every publisher in the music business. If you’re fortunate enough to be having success at all, it’s almost always one or two writers who are generating all the activity that sustains the company, while the rest of the writers are struggling even to pay back the cost of their demos. Ironically, the writers who are making the hits that pay the bills are usually the ones a publisher is least likely to hear from—they are usually self-contained, self-sufficient business entities that rarely need the creative input of the professional manager at the publishing company. For a publisher acquiring new talent, the question is:

What are these writers doing differently than everyone else?

That question came back to me this week, as I was asked to speak to a group of up and coming songwriters at the New York ASCAP Songwriter Workshop—a fantastic group of young songwriters, selected based on songs they submitted, who participate in a short series of meetings intended to help them along their path as writers, producers and artists. These are people who have the talent, and in some cases, have already started to make an impact with their music. Still, they are faced with the challenge that greets every young, developing songwriter, and every publisher who is in the business of finding and developing talent:

How do you move beyond being a talented songwriter on an artistic or technical level, to being a successful professional songwriter on a financial level?

That’s a tough question, and it’s getting tougher all the time. In giving professional, real-world advice to people pursuing a career as songwriters, it would be very easy to simply say, “Don’t”. Having been a songwriter myself in a career that spans almost 20 years, I can honestly say that I don’t think the environment for new artists, writers or producers has ever been more challenging than it is right now. Of course, it’s true that there are more opportunities to distribute or expose your music than ever before, and viable DIY models that did not exist even a decade ago. Still, the professional realities are that sales are falling drastically (whether it’s for DIY product or major label superstars), fewer and fewer artists are recording outside material, fewer labels are signing or breaking new artists, and the level of sync fees and other forms of income are plummeting as well. It’s not a pretty picture. The obvious advice would be to look for some other form of self-abuse to engage in.

And yet, there are success stories every day. Four years ago, I went to see RedOne at his studio, just after he had moved to Manhattan—there were no hits at that point, but the buzz was building. Today, he’s announcing his own label deal, and topping the charts with Lady Gaga. A year after I first met RedOne, the company I work with, Shapiro Bernstein & Co, signed a deal that allowed us to represent a French DJ and producer, David Guetta in the US. Guetta was already a superstar in France and much of Europe at the time, but not well-known in the United States. Since then, he’s had hits ranging from “I Gotta Feeling” with the Black Eyed Peas to “Sexy Chick” with Akon to “Club Can’t Handle Me” with Flo Rida. On paper, songwriting makes playing the lottery look like a conservative business strategy. Nevertheless, success happens everyday.

In fact, as an A&R person, I can’t even say that success is terribly hard to predict. If you’ve been doing this for awhile, and you’ve learned to recognize the vibe of a hit songwriter, it’s actually not all that difficult to predict which upcoming songwriters will one day hit the jackpot. I always say—it’s easy to spot the writers who will make hits. The challenging part is to determine when they’ll make them. For publishers, it’s not enough to know that someone will one day be successful. You need to know if he or she will be successful during the three or four year span that you have them under contract.

So what are those signs that mark a songwriter who will defy the odds and go from up and coming to become the sound of the moment? What do you look for as a publisher to identify those potential superstars? What can you do as a songwriter to move up the ladder into the circle of successful hitmakers? Here are two fundamental qualities that make all the difference between having the potential for success, and actually realizing that potential:

1. Successful songwriters know who they are.

Whether you write for yourself as an artist, for your band, or for outside artists, the first step toward success as a songwriter requires defining who you are and what you do. That’s harder than it sounds, because it involves being realistic and objective about your own work, which is something that many songwriters never quite master. As I often mention in my class, Music Publishing 101, one of the values of embracing your role as your own music publisher is that it forces you to take a more critical view of your own work—seeing what you do well, where your shortcomings are, what styles you excel at and which you struggle with—and challenges you to take steps to shore up any weaknesses in your songs.

Songwriters who become successful generally have a very clear view of where their particular gifts lie, what makes them special, and what help they need to compensate for their shortcomings. Certainly, they can take criticism and even embrace it, if they think it’s well-founded. But more importantly, they don’t need criticism, because they are already acting as their own toughest critic. They are constantly searching to find the musical styles, writing collaborations, working environments, and business structures that allow them not just to experiment or create, but to excel.

Then, once they find who they are and how they work best, the successful songwriters FOCUS. It’s hard to think of any of the top A-level songwriters that don’t have a pretty narrow approach about what they do. Ryan Tedder, the primary writer for OneRepublic as well as for artists like Beyonce and Leona Lewis, is the most diverse I can think of, and even he moves in a pretty restricted area that crosses between pop rock and pop urban, often crafting songs in either genre which are fairly similar, except for the production values and lyrical point of view. In general, most successful artists and songwriters have learned to specialize and to become experts in one specific area or style. They don’t try to do everything. Instead, they know themselves enough to realize that they need to do not what they do well, but what they do best.

Ryan Tedder

There’s also another reason they’ve learned to focus their efforts in one particular area:

2. Successful songwriters know their audience.

Again, no matter if you write for yourself as an artist, for your band, or with the hopes of having other artists record your songs, the secrets of successful songwriters hold true. In addition to knowing who they are as songwriters or artists, the people who manage to be effective in this business have an intuitive, deep, respectful knowledge of who the people are that will support their music. In some cases, songwriters may be writing for people very like themselves—most rock bands, for example, tend to resemble their audience. In other cases, the songwriter may be from an entirely different generation, background or gender than the audience he or she appeals to.

Dr. Luke

But as Rakim said, “it ain’t where ya from, it’s where ya at”. Dr. Luke would never be mistaken for the 13 year old girls that make up the audience for Ke$ha or Katy Perry, but he is very clearly aware that they are his audience, and he intuitively understands what they want from a song, what interests them, how they speak, and what they aspire to. This is likely why Luke doesn’t write country songs—because he knows himself, and he knows that he doesn’t have an accurate picture of that particular audience in the way that Brett James or Hillary Lindsey might. Popular songs reflect the values and interests of the audience they serve. Not surprisingly then, every successful artist or songwriter has a very clear idea of who their core demographic audience is, and has gleaned as many details about that group of people as possible:

Social Values
Political Values
Other favorite bands
How and Where They Listen to Music
Why They Listen to Music

It’s a lot of knowledge to accumulate. That explains why top hitmakers don’t try to have a cursory knowledge about dozens of different genres, but rather prefer to FOCUS, so that they can become experts in one specific area. The reason that Kanye West can make bold records like the one he previewed at the VMA’s a few weeks ago is because he knows his audience, and he understands how they will react. Toby Keith understands his audience just as clearly. David Guetta knows how dance music fans will respond to a particular record, because he studies them at 200 DJ gigs a year. And yet, incredibly, most of the new developing artists I meet can barely articulate who their target audience is, much less describe them with any degree of accuracy. Most songwriters have never given it a moment’s thought.

Kanye West

If you don’t know who will like your music, or who it is intended to speak to, the record company, radio programmers, publishers and music supervisors probably won’t be able to figure it out either. That means the music can’t be marketed— because no one can market to an audience that includes everyone, everywhere. Just as importantly, if you can’t target your market, it’s very unlikely that you’ll happen to create what the market wants or needs. Which leads us back to our original story…

It’s isn’t hard to predict that the five people who are not wearing blindfolds, and who don’t need glasses, will hit the bullseye more often than the other 95 shooters. It’s because they can see the target in front of them, they understand what they’re trying to do, and then they’re taking AIM. Most songwriters never take aim. It’s almost as if they feel it’s cheating. Meanwhile, a tiny number of writers hit the mark over and over again.

Very often, the primary difference between a good, developing songwriter and a hitmaker is not one of talent. It’s strategy. Successful songwriters and artists have learned to think strategically about what they do and who they’re doing it for. Sometimes that process takes years. Sometimes it doesn’t last. If you study once successful artists or songwriters whose careers have faded, it’s usually because success led them to lose sight of their own strengths and weaknesses, or to lose touch with their core audience. Still, the sooner you start to focus and take aim, the sooner you’re likely to start having a real impact in this industry.

For publishers, helping developing songwriters to think strategically is the single most productive thing we can do. For all of the technical and legal aspects that are explored during my 12 week course at Berkleemusic.com, the primary mission of Music Publishing 101 has always been, and continues to be, to help songwriters begin to put together a strategic plan for their music. The goal is to be able to hear your work objectively, assess your strengths and weaknesses, focus your efforts on the most productive markets, and formulate a plan to bring the music to its target audience. That’s how music makes money.


This week is the start of the fall semester at Berkleemusic.com, but there’s still time to register for the newly revamped Music Publishing 101. In an environment as difficult as the one in the current music industry, it’s not enough to be talented. After all, there’s an ASCAP Writer Workshop every year, full of writers with infinite potential. The challenge is to separate yourself from all of the aspiring artists and writers, and start to build a professional career. If that’s what you’re hoping to do, this course may be what helps you find your path to success.

Having spent the first fifteen years of my professional career as a songwriter and record producer, the truth is that I had never worked a day in an office environment prior to taking a job as Creative Director at Zomba Music Publishing, back in the late 1990’s. I had a lot to learn. Not just in regards to music publishing, but also when it came to some practical things, like transferring phone calls, running the fax and copy machines, and the basic realities of office life.

Those realities included the sudden significance of certain dates on the calendar. President’s Day, for instance, is not a holiday recognized by most musicians and songwriters– but if you work in an office, it’s sacred. Another example would be the 30th of March and the 30th of September— these are the times you are virtually guaranteed a chance for a face to face meeting with songwriters who have never found the time to stop by the office previously. They can be found hovering like migrating birds outside of the office of the accounting department, waiting to pick up their royalty statements in person on their way to the nearest bank.

But the truly dangerous dates for a music publisher are the Tuesdays following a holiday break—these are red-letter days on any Creative Director’s calendar. This is because, having been afforded several days of quiet contemplation, every songwriter on a publisher’s roster will have taken the opportunity to reassess his or her career strategy, and compile a list of things to do to get things back on track.

Item #1: Call my publisher.

These “morning after holiday” calls start to stack up by 10am, with one writer after another looking for a half-hour to discuss what’s happening with each song in the catalog, why he or she isn’t getting more cuts, and how can Dr. Luke have every song in the Top Ten all summer long? Being the experienced music business weasel that I am, I’ve learned to schedule my holidays to extend one week later, thus escaping the post-vacation barrage.

All that to say, I’m finally back in the office, having had my own time of reflection and recuperation from a summer that was more resourceful than restful. For yours truly, the summer of 2010 marked a return to Music Publishing 101, and a chance to re-learn, re-imagine, re-assess, and re-write the course that I authored for Berkleemusic.com almost eight years ago. This summer marked the launch of the newly revamped Music Publishing 101, which has been expanded and updated to reflect all of the changes in the music business over the past few years, as well as to offer students more resources, more advice from a variety of industry experts, and a more global perspective on a segment of the industry that is emerging as the last, best hope of the music business.

As those readers who have taken the course know, Music Publishing 101 is directed toward aspiring songwriters, who are hoping to construct their own music publishing company, most often to support their own work as a songwriter. That idea stems directly from my book, Making Music Make Money, which is the textbook and indeed the original inspiration for Music Publishing 101. When I first moved from being a songwriter to a music publisher, one of the first realizations I had was that far too many songwriters (myself included) spend their time searching in vain for a publisher who can make them successful.

If you’re a songwriter, you have a music publisher already—someone who has been there since the day you completed your first song. It’s you. You’re it. As soon as you write a song, you’re not only the author of it, you’re also the publisher. The challenge for most songwriters is not to find a publisher, it’s to learn to be a good, effective one. That’s the theme of Making Music Make Money, and it remains the focus of Music Publishing 101. The whole course is intended to be a step-by-step walk through starting your own music publishing company. By Week 12, you should have your business almost up and running.

Still, having watched the myriad of economic forces and winds of change that have been buffeting the music industry as a whole for the past five years, one of my goals in revamping Music Publishing 101 was to expand that focus beyond just the idea of songwriters starting their own publishing venture. As evidenced by the current record label rush toward 360 deals, the music biz today is all about owning and controlling rights, as much and as many of them as possible, and the idea of controlling copyrights (literally, the “right to copy”) is at the center of music publishing. That means that everyone involved in music—record label owner, concert promoter, booking agent, artist manager, DJ, studio owner, or record producer—should be thinking about music publishing, and probably starting their own music publishing company. If you come into contact with new songs or new songwriters, music publishing should be a part of your overall business plan. In the new Music Publishing 101, I’ve tried to provide all of the information you need to get into the game.

That’s not easy. In truth, it was one of the most daunting tasks I’ve ever undertaken—far more difficult than writing Making Music Make Money, or designing the original Music Publishing 101 course. That’s because innovations like digital distribution, streaming, ringtones and mastertones have required extensive negotiations on the rules and rates that will be used in licensing to these services, some of which are still ongoing. At the same time, worldwide copyright infringement issues from file-sharing to services like YouTube are making a huge impact in both publishing income and the future of copyright protection. Meanwhile, collection agencies like ASCAP, BMI, SESAC and Harry Fox Agency are continually expanding their reach into new income streams, the European Union has altered the way income can be collected throughout Western Europe, and the foreign collection societies continue to negotiate their own deals with worldwide music users, many of which differ significantly from the American model. To put it mildly, it’s a wild time out there—and compiling a text about music publishing sometimes feels like trying to draw a map during a tidal wave. You’re not always sure what the terrain is going to look like when you wake up the next morning.

Nevertheless, it was important to me, and to Berklee, that the course be as comprehensive and up to date as possible, and I feel confident that we’ve succeeded. There is information on all of the contemporary licensing issues, thorough discussions of the agencies and organizations that collect income for each of the various income streams around the world, and an examination of most, if not all, of the legal and copyright issues vexing publishers at the moment. Even better, there is plenty of practical information for dealing with all of the contemporary challenges of music publishing , including tips on:

negotiating licenses
resolving ownership disputes
collecting income in foreign territories.

Students will find a wealth of resources scattered throughout the lessons, including:

recommendations for tip sheets (to find out who’s looking for music)
A&R directories (to uncover the addresses and emails for the industry people you need to reach)
sample publishing and sub-publishing contracts
lists of the key music industry conferences and seminars
new technologies available to help music publishers organize their catalogs, issue accounting statements and monitor uses of their songs.

One of the benefits to a 25 year career in the music jungle, and to my current position as Vice President of A&R at Shapiro Bernstein & Co., Inc., one of the industry’s most respected independent music publishers, is the access it gives me to those far brighter and more accomplished than myself. That was a benefit I wanted to pass on to Music Publishing 101 students, so we incorporated interviews with a number of industry professionals, including:

Wes Wierder of InHolland University in Amsterdam,

publisher Dan Coleman of A Side Music

songwriter and publisher Jeff Franzel,

Peter Bliss, the director of SongHall, the educational arm of the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.

In addition there are links to an interview with songwriting guru Jason Blume, as well as a wide variety of news articles, informational videos and blog spaces (including this one), to give students the option to explore specific issues in greater depth.

Maybe most importantly, there is a new global focus in the class that attempts to offer a picture of how music publishing works around the world, not only in America. More than almost any other segment of the music industry, music publishers must work with a worldwide knowledge of copyright law, collection agencies and systems, methods of determining ownership shares and royalty rates, and the “ways of doing business” that can vary wildly from territory to territory. Especially with internet distribution systems and streaming services becoming the dominant way of sharing music, we are in a global economy, which offers both benefits and challenges. No publisher can afford to limit their music’s reach to only one or two countries—there’s too much potential money and opportunity in foreign territories. At the same time, you can’t take advantage of the opportunity, nor can you collect the money, if you don’t understand how music publishing works in the regions in which you’re doing business. That’s why almost every lesson in the 12 week course of Music Publishing 101 has a “Global Perspectives” section, which highlights the different ways the rules of the game may change in territories outside of the United States.

If it sounds like I’m trying to sell you on Music Publishing 101… I am. Not for my own sake, but rather for yours. As recently as last week, I was marveling with a former publishing colleague, now working on the record company side of things, at how little most music people–songwriters, A&R people, and even record company owners—actually understand about music publishing. People think it’s all about printing sheet music or registering copyrights or collecting pennies for every record sold. Of course, it is about all of those things—and dozens of other income streams and functions as well. The wide-range of potential ways to make money in music publishing is what makes it the single best place to be in the entire music business as the industry goes through the painful process of evolution.

This is the reason that investment firms like KKR are putting billions of dollars behind the relaunch of BMG Rights; it’s why a huge Dutch pension fund is investing in Imagem; it’s why the only division of any value to EMI shareholders within that crumbling corporation is EMI Music Publishing. As the music biz moves away from creating a physical product to instead licensing uses around the world, music publishers are positioned to become the most profitable part of the “new” music industry—as they have the knowledge, experience and business structure to exploit their copyrights on a global scale.

Of course for songwriters, it doesn’t really matter that music publishing is a strong or growing side of the business. For songwriters, music publishing is the only business there is. Songwriting is not a job. There is nothing in the songwriting process that actually generates money. It’s not supposed to. Songwriting is an art, not a business.

Music publishing is the business of songwriting. It exists to take songs, and find ways to generate income around them. That’s why my book is called “Making Music Make Money” – because that’s what music publishers do. Without music publishing, it’s impossible for songwriting to be anything but a hobby.

The reality is that fewer and fewer songwriters have the option of calling their publishers on that dreaded Tuesday after Labor Day. That’s because fewer songwriters are being signed by music publishers, and those who do get signed already have some success with their music. Music publishers are looking to partner with songwriters who understand how to make money with their music, and are doing it on their own. Today’s aspiring songwriters have to ask themselves how to get their career on track and moving forward.

Here’s one suggestion then, to kick off your fall season and lay the groundwork for good things in 2011: Check out the new and improved Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com. In twelve weeks, you’ll understand how to build a business around your music that can start turning your songs into money. That’s what Music Publishing 101 is all about.


I hope everyone had a great Memorial Day holiday! I joined much of the country in taking a quick vacation– a couple of days of international business, then off to a week-long respite from weaseling. So maybe that explains why my mind is on things global. Or maybe its a conversation I had last week with someone in the insurance industry who had just been offered a position in Singapore– he was telling me that in many of the world’s fastest growing economies there is a real shortage of people with expertise in many of the major industries. Or maybe it’s the video I just watched, forwarded to me by one of our faithful blog-watchers Quincy Wofford, of the first hit that built the career of Haim Saban, the subject of one of my most recent blogs. That video featured an Israeli teenager singing a French song in one of the earliest Japanese television cartoons. It doesn’t get much more international than that.


What all this worldly thinking does is to bring home to me the fact that most of us are missing opportunities all the time, simply because our sphere of awareness is not sufficiently global. In fact, much of the time, it’s barely even local. When I was a writer-producer, the world was frequently contained entirely within the four walls of the recording studio, for weeks or months at a time. We are all worrying so much about what we’re doing, that we forget that where we’re doing it could make all the difference. If you’re searching for gold (or platinum records), it’s usually easier if you go where the gold is found.

This does not mean that you should immediately join every other songwriter from New York, Nashville, and London in moving to Los Angeles. Quite the opposite in fact. The herd mentality is exactly what you want to avoid if you’re looking for opportunity. You can’t dominate a market that’s over-saturated. You become the big fish by going where all the other big fish are not.

Of course, those little placid pools of opportunity seldom feel terribly exciting when you first arrive at them. In fact, most of the time, when a songwriter is in a small town, or a mid-size city, or a relatively small country, or in an economy that is still developing and has little infrastructure for media or music businesses, all he or she wants to do it get out. I recall having a writer/producer from Denmark make a writing trip to New York, and within days of arriving, he was already talking about moving here. Now Denmark is actually a very vibrant country with a thriving music community. Nevertheless, it’s not a large market, and as such, certainly doesn’t offer the financial pay-off that making it in America does. I can easily understand the appeal of relocating to a city full of other artists, writers, and music business people.

What I had to explain to the Danish writer was that much of his appeal to A&R people, American co-writers, and others in the industry was that he was something exotic. Simply by coming from a different place, and bringing different influences and ideas, he had a story that opened doors. It’s a lot easier to suggest to an A&R person that they take a meeting with the hot new writer in town for a week from Denmark, or Berlin, or Peru, than to interest them in another songwriter from Brooklyn or Hoboken. People in the music industry are constantly searching for something new and surprising, and more often than not, those things do not emerge from the same community of songwriters that is creating the current hits. The hot new thing comes from outsiders– whether it’s from a regional scene (think of the music coming out of places like Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Memphis, Portland and Vancouver), or from another country. Today’s Hot 100 is full of international success stories, from RedOne to Stargate to David Guetta to The Phoenix to The Script to Greg Kurstin to Akon to Rihanna. Being from a place outside of the music centers can seem like a disadvantage, especially if there’s no local music community with whom to work. Yet, it’s also an advantage of sorts, as it gives a story and a new, fresh perspective. It also makes it relatively easy to become a dominant player in the local scene.


That reality has a flip side for songwriters, producers, publishers and others who are located in a music center, like New York, London, Nashville or LA. While you might be fighting for every breath in a big but very crowded pond, perhaps you would be a big fish in a smaller, less competitive environment. I often find this to be especially true for melody and lyric writers working in the urban/r&b market. What if instead of struggling to break out of the pack of the hundreds or thousands of topline writers in a market like LA or Atlanta, you were to go to a European country, where people who could write believable, authentic lyrics with an American urban sensibility and slang were in relatively short supply? Countries like Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Germany, or Amsterdam are full of fantastic programmers and producers who can compete with many of the top urban producers in the US. But they lack the topline writers who can provide lyrics that work for American audiences. It doesn’t always make sense to go where the action is. If you’re trying to get to first base, the best thing to do is “hit ‘em where they ain’t”.

That goes for the business side as well. Just as many developing countries are in need of experts in insurance, banking and medicine, they may also be in need of people to build their creative industries, like music, film, radio, and entertainment management. It’s hardly news to anyone that the music industry in America and much of Western Europe is contracting, or maybe even collapsing. But in places like Eastern Europe, China, and the Middle East, the music industry is just getting started. It’s often not very pretty, frequently lacking in infrastructure or even basic copyright law, and sometimes actually at odds with government authorities or local customs. That’s about what the industry looked like in America in the Forties and Fifties, when people like Leonard Chess, Ahmet Ertegun, Don Kirshner, and Col. Tom Parker first made their fortunes. If you want to strike it rich, the place with the least rules, the fewest entrenched power brokers, and the lowest number of competitors is an ideal place to do it.

Since it’s that time of year, I would then offer this up as advice to all of the graduates of music schools and music business programs this month:

Get outta here.

Don’t go where everyone else is going, wherever that might be. Find a place where there is an interesting local scene that’s just taking shape, or an economy that’s growing rapidly, or a place where whole segments of the music industry have never existed. Then bring your knowledge, talent and ambition to somewhere that really needs it. It will be very difficult, especially in places where there is relatively little legal or economic infrastructure on which to build. But trust me, trying to break through by gigging at the Mercury Lounge or the Whiskey is pretty difficult too– as is working your way up through the executive ranks of a major label teetering on extinction. At least this way, you have the chance to truly hit the jackpot, rather than just hoping for a decent advance or a good severance package.

Sooner or later, you will in all likelihood return to London, LA, New York, Stockholm, Munich or Tokyo– that’s why they call them music centers. These places are the ones with the lawyers, agents, major publishers and labels, and collection companies that make the business run. But when you return, you’ll come back with a story (hopefully a successful one), some momentum and credibility, and with any luck, the kind of power that comes from having created a thriving business model in unlikely circumstances. That’s very different than showing up in town with a degree and a suitcase full of resumes.

Realistically, in order to pull this off, you’ll need more than just a basic background in the music biz. You’ll want some foreign language skills, an understanding of the culture and economic system of wherever you’re headed, a musical knowledge that extends beyond the current US Top 40, and an understanding of how different aspects of the music business can change based on local custom, copyright laws (or lack thereof), and different collection systems. Needless to say, that will take some extensive studying and research.

At the moment, I’m knee-deep in updating my Berklee Music online class, Music Publishing 101. One of the key changes I’m hoping to make in the new course is a greater emphasis on the international differences in music publishing. It’s a very tough subject to address, simply because there are so many of those differences, some rooted in variances in the copyright laws between territories, others related to the size of the market, and still others based on custom and history. The US system is neither the oldest nor the most representative– it’s just one way among many of publishing music. You need to know the variations in each market, not just so that you can speak intelligently with sub-publishers and colleagues in other regions, but also so that you can take advantage of opportunities that lie outside of your own national borders. If you want to check out the new version of Music Publishing 101, visit Berkleemusic.com

When I first told my parents that I wanted to be in the music industry, they reminded me frequently that success in that field seemed to hinge entirely on being “in the right place at the right time”. Those words always drove me crazy, as they seemed to imply that anything that happened in music was all a matter of sheer luck—never a great basis upon which to build a business strategy. While I’m still not a big believer in the “lucky break” theory of career development, I now have to admit that Mom and Dad had a point. By doing a little research, keeping your eyes open, and being willing to go wherever it takes to grab an opportunity, you can put yourself in the “right place” at the “right time”, and make your own luck. Don’t be afraid to pack your bags and go west, east, north, or south to find a place where the pasture is greener.

A couple of years ago, a family member gave me a book called You Will Make Money In Your Sleep. I think it was intended to encourage me to get more than four or five hours a night—a carry-over from my days as a musician and record-producer. That haggard, post-all-nighter look starts to get a little scary when you reach my age bracket. Unfortunately, the generous gift-giver apparently hadn’t given the text much of a look, as You Will Make Money in your Sleep turned out not to be a brilliant get-rich quick scheme or a story of the salutary effects of slumber, but rather an expose of “the financier to the stars”, Dana Ghiaccetto. Ghiacetto was a high-profile investment advisor in the Nineties, who managed to swindle people like Toby Maguire, Michael Ovitz and Phish with that tempting come-on line.

So I admit to a little trepidation when I found out that I would be a panelist at “Music Publishing– Making Money In Your Sleep” at South By Southwest this week:

Music Publishing- Making Money In Your Sleep
Thursday, March 18

Thankfully, I’m not providing any investment advice. Or at least, not exactly. Instead, we’ll be looking at ways to try to make your music work for you. That’s a good topic, especially for the singer-songwriters and indie bands that throng to SXSW each year.

As many of you have probably noticed, the downside to the grass-roots, indie approach to making it in the music business is that so much of the work requires the direct involvement of you, the artist and/or songwriter. In this new 21st century business model, you can only succeed by getting out and building your fanbase person by person, show by show, and that means a lot of hands-on work for the musicians. Now, not only do you have to gig continuously, with all the drive-time, set-up and tear-down effort that is an inevitable part of rock ‘n’ roll touring, you also have to book the gigs, sell your merch, coordinate your own publicity campaign in each town, and spend at least a couple of hours on your social networking site, making sure your fans feel connected. And don’t forget to Twitter while you’re at it.

Not only do you need something that will help make you money in your sleep– you need to find the time to sleep. Probably, you are not in the mood to hear that you now need to become a music publisher as well.

But you do. In fact, as I’ve said so many times, you already are a music publisher– you have been since you wrote your first song. You are not only the author and composer of your song, you’re also the music publisher. The problem is that most songwriters haven’t learned to be effective music publishers. Of course, that’s what my book, Making Music Make Money, is all about. My course, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic, goes even further, and provides a week by week guide to setting up your own music publishing company.

Unfortunately, I can’t promise that having your own music publishing company comes without effort. You have to gather the knowledge you’ll need to be effective. You will need to set up the structure and systems necessary to operate the business, administer copyrights, and issue licenses. You’ll have to strategize about the opportunities that exist for your music, and then make the calls to get your music out there. Maybe you can find an intern or a colleague to help you with the day to day operation of the company. Perhaps you can even partner with a larger, already established music publisher, who can take on most of the responsibility for pitching, licensing and administration. Still, there’s no use kidding yourself that this is a small undertaking. At any level, music publishing is a big, complex job.

Nevertheless, here’s my investment advice for the day (and most certainly, the ONLY investment advice you should ever take from me):

Do it. Stop treating your songs as something more than simply the material you perform or record– start seeing them as the primary assets of your business. Stop viewing your songwriting as inherently intertwined with your performing career. Your songs, and your songwriting talent, can generate income on their own. That’s what music publishing is all about. Here are just a few opportunities that an investment in music publishing could yield:

Place your songs with other recording artists. Let them do the touring and the twittering, while you earn money.

Place your songs in films and television shows. Not only does it publicize you as an artist—it generates sync fees and performance income.

Place your songs in video games or other products. The licensing rates are pretty low, but the exposure is ridiculously high. And you don’t have to travel in a van, tear-down or set-up.

Place your songs in advertisements. It’s not only about grabbing that Apple iPod spot. There are national, local and international advertising opportunities that could fund your band’s next road-trip.

Create new music for film/TV libraries, which license “needle-drop” music to a wide variety of media. The sync fees are virtually non-existent, but because these are non-exclusive licenses, the same piece can be used again and again, generating significant performance money.

Write new songs for projects not tied to you as a performer. Of course, your artist career or your band’s development are the priority. But you’re also a songwriter, and not every song has to be for you to sing. There are artists around the country, and especially outside the US that are looking for songs. Why not spend a few weeks a year taking aim at those?

This last strategy was one that our company, Shapiro Bernstein & Co, Inc., and our partner, Tosha Music, recently employed with one of our top songwriters, Marti Dodson, from the Ohio-based band, Saving Jane. When Saving Jane’s first single “Girl Next Door” (Dodson/Buzzard/Goodman/Martin/Misevski) became a Top Forty pop hit, showed up on NOW (That’s What I Call Music) 22, and was covered by country artist Julie Roberts, we knew that Marti had the potential to be an important pop songwriter, and not only for Saving Jane. We suggested that she spend two weeks traveling to Stockholm, which is the pop-song factory for all of Europe and much of America, and the home of many of the industry’s best production and writing teams. Marti’s first trip yielded Saving Jane’s subsequent hit single, “Supergirl” (written with Mats Valentin from Sweden), which was later covered by Suzie McNeil in Canada, who took the song Top Ten in that territory. The song was used as a theme song by superstar auto racer Danica Patrick, gymnast Nastia Lukin, and showed up once again at the recent Winter Olympics.

Through the investment of a couple of writing trips to Sweden, Marti has now had songs cut by artists from South Africa to Germany (where she recently had the theme song to the German Popstars television show). When your songs are being played on TV in Europe, you’re literally making money in your sleep. That’s the goal. And that’s what music publishing is all about.

You can’t be everywhere at once and you can’t do everything all the time. If your business plan is predicated solely on your performance schedule, you will eventually reach the end of your earning potential, because you can only play so many gigs in a week. But if you have an effective music publishing operation, your songs can indeed be everywhere at once, earning money all the time. Of course, it’s not easy getting your music out there or locating the right opportunities. Yet it’s the best investment you can make, as there’s no limit to the ultimate pay-off. Do it right, and you might even be able to get some shut-eye once or twice a week.

If you’re going to SXSW, be sure to catch this panel. Afterward I’ll be at the South By Bookstore, selling some books:

Thursday, March 18 at 4:45pm

Stop by and say hello! See you in Austin…

The Great Pie Fight

Feb 19 2010

There’s an old musician joke about how to make a trombone player miserable… the answer being: “Give him a gig”.

The corollary to this could be, “How do you make music business weasels fight?”. Answer: “Give them some money.” Of course, not many people have been giving the hungry weasels anything for the past several years. But all of sudden, manna from heaven has arrived, courtesy of the National Music Publishers Association and the recent late-fee settlement with the RIAA. And now, true to form, the fangs are being bared, and the weasels are going to war…

Granted, the found money should be good news. The late-fee settlement reflects an agreement by the Recording Industry Association of America to pre-emptively settle on behalf of the four major labels the countless claims against them for monies (songwriter and publisher mechanical royalties, to be more specific) that have been held in what are known as “pending and unmatched accounts” for the years 2000-2006. We’re not talking chump change here. The settlement, which represents a negotiated total that is undoubtedly less than what is owed, but certainly more than publishers could have hoped to collect on their own (and perhaps more than labels can actually pay at the moment), provides a fund of approximately $285 million dollars that will be dug into like a giant pie at a picnic by music publishers both large and small. Or, at least that’s the idea…

If you’ve been reading your Billboard regularly, you’ve seen that a debate has already started about how this money will be distributed among major and independent publishers, and then consequently to the songwriters themselves. My friend, attorney Wallace Collins, recently penned an insightful op-ed for Billboard warning of the feeding frenzy to come, and the danger that major music publishers (Universal, EMI, Sony-ATV, and Warner Chappell) are going to gobble up all the good stuff, leaving only scraps for the independent publishers. That piece was quickly followed by a rebuttal of sorts from NMPA CEO and master negotiator David Israelite, who reassured the little guys that the process would be fair and equitable (if such a thing exists in the music industry jungle). Both pieces are worth reading and understanding. If you’re a songwriter who has had songs released on major labels within the last decade, we might be talking about your money.


But where did this bonanza come from anyway? And isn’t ten years a bit long for an IOU? If the money was owed, why have labels been holding it all this time? Don’t mechanical licenses require payment of the royalties owed to songwriters and publishers within a more reasonable time span than a decade?

This is where the textbook rules of music publishing crashes into record business reality. In my course at Berkleemusic.com, Music Publishing 101, I explain that under the mechanical royalty licensing system, the statutory rate provides for a royalty of 9.1 cents from the record label to the music publisher for every song sold. Sweet. But there is usually a chat later on in that week, detailing the less than pretty picture that prevails on many record releases. You can check out my book, Making Music Make Money, if you want to understand how the system is supposed to work. But the game isn’t always get played by the book.


Most of the money in the late-fee fund results from the record company practice of releasing albums on which the licensing process for the individual songs has not been completed. Theoretically, every song released commercially should have a mechanical licensing agreement in place. The truth is, the licensing requests may not be sent from record label to publishers until months after the record is already in the stores. It would be easy to blame this on the usual record label inefficiency and administrative tangle, but that wouldn’t be entirely fair. In truth, when the labels finally do manage to get the license request out to pubs, it’s often the publishers and the songwriters who are ill-prepared to complete the paperwork.

If you have checked out “Making Music Make Money”, you’ll know that I harp incessantly on the importance of having written song split agreements in place for any song in your catalog. Here’s why:

If there is a split dispute on a song, and the writers and publishers are not able to agree on how the ownership shares are to be divided, there is no way for the publishers to issue the necessary mechanical license. That means no money until the fight is settled. But it gets much, much worse…

Over the last decade, the record labels, seeing an opportunity, have used those split disputes, along with arguments about controlled composition clauses attached to producer contracts, three-quarter rates, and sample clearances to withhold payment for ALL the songs on an album in which even ONE song has not been licensed. This means that one split dispute on one song on an album can hold up money for every songwriter and publisher with a song on that record, often for years and years.

Much of this relates to the nature of the “controlled composition and royalty cap” clause that is often a part of recording artist contracts and producer agreements. Under this clause, there is often a maximum amount of money per album allotted to be paid out as mechanical royalties. If one song is licensed at a “full statutory rate”, it may require that all the other songs on the record receive a reduced share. Thus, it is theoretically impossible to calculate what the royalty rate should be until all the licenses for all of the songs have been agreed upon. In reality, record labels have been only too happy to keep all of the money locked up in their coffers as songwriters, publishers, and producers fought their issues out among themselves.

Does all this sound esoteric and remote? Having worked at both major publishers and labels during this entire decade, let me clue you in– we are talking about hundreds of songwriters with cuts on superstar, multi-platinum albums that have never seen a dime in mechanical royalties. These are the kinds of cuts that songwriters work lifetimes to achieve– only to find out that because two other writers on another track are fighting about five percent ownership shares, they will receive nothing this year. Or next year. Or the next.

So now we should be happy, right? The labels have finally agreed to pay out much of the money they’ve been sitting on, and all those long-suffering writers and publishers are about to get their due. Again, it may not play out exactly by the book…

As Wallace Collins points out, the primary stumbling block is that the monies in the fund are set to be distributed based on “market share”, rather than attempting to distinguish the exact amount owed to each specific publisher and writer (probably an impossible task anyway). Each publisher who believes they are owed money will have to claim their share, and then the “special master” (who wouldn’t love that title?) Kenneth Feinberg (who administered the TARP bailout for the US Treasury) will determine who gets what, based on their share of the market. Collins is quite correct when he points out that this system is likely to greatly favor the major music publishers and the larger independents, at the expense of the very small independent publishers, who may only represent one or two writers. While it is possible for those who don’t agree with Feinberg’s determinations to pursue other action, those small publishers are very unlikely to have the resources to fight that battle.

Collins makes two other very important points:

These problems of split disputes, sample clearances, and producer “controlled composition clauses” that cause the withheld payments are predominately centered in urban music genres. My rough estimate based on experience would be that at least fifty percent of this money is owed to writers in the urban genre, where such disputes are almost constant, while the other fifty percent would be split between country, pop, rock and other genres, which are far less likely to have royalties withheld. The market share calculation is likely to mean that small independent publishers specializing in r&b and hip-hop will receive far less than their fair share, while those in the pop and rock fields may get a bit of a windfall.

At the same time, songwriters may actually be the ones most at risk of being shafted (wow, there’s a surprise). In a key point, Wallace points out that “each songwriter will need to pursue his or her publisher for a share of what the publisher collects from the NMPA settlement. Otherwise, there’s a strong likelihood that publishers will simply hold the monies that they collect in their own ‘pending and unmatched’ accounts indefinitely, just as the labels had done previously.”

Uh, yeah. Call me a cynic (you wouldn’t be the first), but I’m quite confident that one reason the major labels finally agreed to pay this money out was with the idea that they could move the “held” money from one division of the corporation (the record label) to another division (the publishing division), while still avoiding the massive late-fee payment penalties that would have been imposed, had they not agreed to settle. Having spent my whole life in either the songwriting or publishing business, I can assure you that Wallace is on target here– some publishers, not all, but certainly some big ones, will funnel most of this settlement into a ‘pending and unmatched’ account, sharing none of it with the writers, unless or until the writers demand it. The publishers will claim that they are researching who should get what, how to locate writers that are owed money but have fallen out of their accounting system, how to deal with writers that have changed publishers since the time the song was released, and on and on.

While they’re doing all that, the money will remain in the publisher’s special account, earning interest and in many cases, vanishing into the ether. It’s just how this game gets played. Listen to Wallace: songwriters need to make their claims to publishers now and let them know that they are aware of the NMPA settlement and want what they are owed. That too, is how the game gets played.

So is David Israelite wrong in his rebuttal to Wallace Collins, in which he defends the agreement? No– not at all. Israelite ends his reply saying “Distributing up to $285 million to an entire industry isn’t an easy task, but what a wonderful problem to have”, and he’s certainly on the mark with that. The truth is, Wallace Collins is an attorney, responsible for ensuring that individual clients, often small publishers or individual songwriters, get their fair share of what they are owed. Such work requires one particular type of mindset. David Israelite is a negotiator, who is responsible for reaching agreements between various parties that are each protecting their own interests, and he is extremely good at that work, to the benefit of the whole music publishing and songwriting community. It’s a different job, which requires a more forgiving point of view.

This agreement frees up money that has been tied up for ten years, and that alone is a very good thing. Much more importantly, it makes major strides in resolving the problem going forward, which will be of benefit to every songwriter and publisher, large or small. Wallace is right when he points out that the settlement distribution will not be perfect or without some injustices to the little guy. David Israelite is equally right in pointing out that it’s better than what we had, and certainly better than continuing to fight.

Something is better than nothing.
Them that’s got shall get, them that’s not shall lose.
You don’t get, if you don’t ask.

People don’t drop by $285 million dollar pies every day. Make sure you get your piece.

Happy New Year everyone!

I know I said that this blog would carry on our current theme, which is how to get your music out there to people– and it will. But I’m going to save my trouble-shooting blog, what to do when you run into obstacles in pitching your music, for just a minute. After all, has anyone really been making pitch calls over the last two weeks? If you have, you’ve been leaving a lot of voice mails, because it’s dead out there. All of the music business weasels have departed for ski vacations or the Caribbean (nothing like a weasel in a swimsuit) and left LA and NYC to the tourists. So instead, I thought I’d offer up a quick set of ideas to kick off the New Year, and to put me thoroughly in sync with the rest of the blogosphere, offering Top Ten lists ad infinitum. Here’s mine:


1. Identify your market.

This year, try narrowing your vision and focusing on the one specific market that best fits what you do. No more dabbling in one style, then another, then another. Most of the reason that songwriters struggle to create that two minute “elevator pitch” that we discussed last week is that they quite literally don’t know what they’re doing– they have never forced themselves to focus on one specific thing sufficiently to be able to articulate precisely what it is that they do.

2. Know your market.

In 2010, the music business is a business of specialists– A&R people, managers, publicists, engineers, producers, and yes, even songwriters, are segmented by genre, and expected to be experts in that particular area of music. That means being familiar with all of the artists old and new in that market, knowing the key business players, the labels, the current production styles. Sound like a lot of information to digest? That’s why you “identified” your market. It’s not plausible to be an expert in three or four genres at once.

3. Strategize.

Once you know your market, and you know all about the artists, labels, managers and producers in it, then you’re in a position to start looking for the openings. Where are the opportunities? Don’t focus on the superstars if you don’t have any track record– those are out of reach. Look for the up and coming artists, or the new trends, or the hot new label, or the young entrepreneurs. That’s where you’ll find your opportunities. Once you see where the openings in the market are, you need to look at every possible way in which you can take advantage of it.

4. Know who you are.

You can’t start meeting people until you know how to introduce yourself. That doesn’t mean just saying your name and handing out business cards. You need to be able to explain in three or four sentences who you are and what you’re doing. You can talk about what you’re doing now (“I’m promoting a new single that just came out…”), what you did in the past (“I had a song on Kelly Clarkson’s last album…”), who you work with (“I co-write with Brett James in Nashville”), or who you are (“I’m a producer from Norway” or “I’m a recording engineer for a jingle house, but I’m also a songwriter”), but you need to have two or three sentences to present a picture that’s clear, interesting and memorable. Whatever it is, memorize it. Ideally, it should be a conversation-starter– that way it won’t be the only two sentences you get.

5. Know what you want.

This is such a big one that it needs to be divided into a big picture and a small one. In the big picture sense, you need to know what your goals are for your music and what would constitute success. Do you want to get rich? Do you just want to be able to have a full-time career in music? Do you just want to support your hobby and have one song on a record somewhere? Everything is acceptable, and there’s a strategy to get you to each goal. But it won’t be the same one. You can’t read a map until you know where you’re going. If you want to take on the big picture question, and you shouldn’t waste a moment on any other plan of action until you do, take the “Music Business Weasel’s Pop Quiz” in my book, “Making Music Make Money”.


On the small picture side, you need to think about what you want from the person to whom you’re presenting your music. Are you looking for a record deal? Do you want them to record your song with an artist to whom they’re connected? Do you want them to sign you to a publishing contract? Are you looking for an introduction to someone they know? If what you want doesn’t match up to what the person on the other end can feasibly deliver (a BMI rep can’t offer you a publishing contract; a NY-based A&R rep can’t get your song to a country artist) then you’re wasting everyone’s time. Figure out what each person can do for you BEFORE you reach out.

6. Take the conference call.

No industry in the world has more conferences and networking events than the music business. That just means that there is no excuse for not knowing anyone, or not understanding the business. Every conference has a full array of industry executives in attendance, many of whom are on panels where they share the knowledge of the business and take questions from the audience. Beyond that, there are ASCAP, BMI and SESAC educational events, programs sponsored by songwriter groups like the Songwriters Hall of Fame and NSAI, or events hosted by industry trade organizations like the Recording Academy, NARIP, and the NMPA. Depending on your genre, your goals, and your financial and geographical situation, you can check out: MIDEM, CMJ, South By Southwest, Winter Music Conference, Billboard & Hollywood Reporter Film and TV Music Conference, Biillboard’s Music & Money, Amsterdam Dance Event, or ASCAP’s “I Create Music” Expo. That should fill your calendar for the year. If you can’t afford to register, consider contacting the conference and volunteering to work at the registration desk or within the conference itself. Sometimes you can trade some labor time for a free pass…

7. Ask one good question.

If you do attend a conference, here’s a tip for meeting that key industry player that you want to know:

Find a panel on which he or she is speaking. Then, when the Q&A portion of the panel arrives, step up to the mic and ask one good question. A good question does not directly involve you (“why didn’t you listen to the package I sent you?”), and is not too basic (“how can I get music to you?”). A good question reflects a knowledge of the business and the panelist, is relevant to all of the industry people in the room, and could be the topic of discussion among other panelists (“What do you think of the new rate decision from the Copyright Board?”, “How is your business using the social networking sites to target an audience?”, “Do you see your show widening its use of music, or the genres it uses, or narrowing it?”).

Having done hundreds of such panels, I guarantee you that if you ask one good question, you will be the only one who does. I also guarantee that if you approach the panelist at the close of the discussion, you will be remembered, and probably walk away with a business card and an invitation to be in touch.

8. Educate yourself.

At the music publishing company where I work, someone called our office this week, and began the conversation with “I don’t really understand what you do there…” Believe it or not, this happens EVERY DAY! For whatever reason, music seems to attract a large number of people who are almost entirely ignorant of the business of which they supposedly wish to be a part. Is it any surprise that most of these people are either ignored or taken advantage of?

If you’re serious about pursuing music publishing and/or songwriting as a business, it only stands to reason that you need to have the same knowledge as every other professional in the industry. Invest 12 weeks in “Music Publishing 101″ at berkleemusic.com, and learn exactly what a music publisher does, how to do it, and how to set up your own music publishing business. You’ll come out not only with a thorough knowledge of the business, but also with a full strategy for how to make your music make money.

9. Write hits.

The truth is, most songwriters’ primary obstacle to success is not a lack of knowledge, contacts, or strategy. Most of the time, the real problem is that songwriters are simply not selling what the industry needs. Most songwriters are trying to write good songs. Some are even writing great songs. But what is needed by every A&R person, manager, artist, is something else entirely. These people need “hit” songs.

If you don’t understand the difference, then check out my book, “The Billboard Guide To Writing and Producing Songs That Sell”. In an age where the album cut has become entirely irrelevant, there is no formula for success that doesn’t involve writing “hits”.


10. Do the work.

I read an incredible article last year in the New Yorker by author Malcolm Gladwell, called “How David Beat Goliath”.


Perhaps the most profound point made in the article was this, and I paraphrase:
most people don’t succeed simply because they are not willing to do the work required.

Having had the opportunity to work with superstar writers from Steve Diamond to Billy Mann to Andy Goldmark to Stargate to David Guetta, the one thing that all of them share is a “work ethic” that simply dwarfs most of their competition. This is not to diminish their individual talent, which is significant and unique. It is to say that there is no way you will be able to compete with these A-level writers on the basis of talent alone. Even if you have the same gifts as a songwriter, their drive, ambition, and willingness to go anywhere and do whatever it takes will put them on top. If you are going to compete, you have to do what is needed to win.

I know that most of the songwriters reading these suggestions will ignore them entirely, and search instead for a shortcut to success that involves less effort. A few will resolve to try three or four of the ten, and at the end of the year, will have excuses for why they only accomplished one or two. But be aware: the successful songwriters and music publishers will do all of these every year.

You can’t “try” to do something. Either you’re doing it, or you’re not.

Best wishes for a great 2010! Thanks for your support of the blog. See you at the top of the charts…

Back To Basics

Dec 13 2009

I’ve had some interesting inquiries come to me recently on the blog site and it got me thinking… after all is said and done, the problems of most songwriters and music publishers are not really the complex issues of negotiated royalty rates, streaming on demand versus downloads, or flat rate licensing schemes. Those big, multi-faceted bones of contention certainly affect us as songwriters and music publishers. They may weigh on our minds, get us in a fighting mood, or, best case, bring in some unexpected money. But they are not what is front and center in our mind as we go through our daily career struggle.

What we think about almost all the time is a challenge that seems considerably more straightforward and simple, but is in fact, far harder to conquer:

What specifically can I do to get my music out into the world to start earning me money?

So I thought that in the time leading up to the holiday break, perhaps I would try to address that subject, from a variety of different angles. In the end, it’s what music publishing is all about. It’s how my first book, “Making Music Make Money” got its title. It’s the primary focus of my class, Music Publishing 101 at Berkleemusic.com. And yet the questions keep on coming. And the challenges to actually getting our music into income-generating opportunities keep increasing. Let’s go back to basics one more time.


But in order to do it, we’re going to start with three more questions, all of which usually follow the big question of “what do I do to make my music earn money?” If we can tackle these fundamental issues, then we’ll have a start on conquering the bigger question in the following weeks. Here are three selections from the “greatest hits” compilation of questions to ask the music business weasel:

Question #1: How do I get my songs considered by major, superstar artists?
Answer: You don’t. You also don’t get to pitch in the World Series with no professional baseball experience or become the president of a Fortune 500 company on the first day on the job. In songwriting, as in every other business, there is a concept of “working your way up the ladder”.

Songwriters who have yet to have even one successful single do not need to be spending their time trying to figure out how to get songs to Rihanna, or Taylor Swift, or Daughtry. The truth is, most major artists want to be directly involved with writing most of the songs they record, and the ones that they don’t write will largely come from the proven, successful hitmakers so sought after by the record companies. Trust me, if it were your multi-million dollar investment on the line, you’d probably take the same approach.

If you are a developing songwriter with no real track record, you need to concentrate on writing for the next Rihanna, or Taylor Swift, or Daughtry. That means working with artists who don’t yet have a record contract, and helping to write the song that clinches the deal. Or finding a lesser-known act still trying to break-through with that one big hit. Or meeting local developing artists or managers in your local community, and trying to write the song that will expose them to a larger audience. If you can do that successfully, then you’ll get approached to work on slightly bigger, more high-profile projects. Then slowly, but steadily, you’ll be building the contacts and the track record that can move you up the ladder.

Check out tipsheets like Songlink International or Myhitsonline.com. They are full of projects in various stages of development, all looking for songs. Or get active in your local community and find the potential talent you can work with there.



Certainly, most of these projects will amount to little. But if you can provide a key song, you will at the very least make a new set of contacts, who will go on to other projects after this one. This is how “networks” are built. If you can show up with a genuine hit, you might create a new star, and immediately put yourself in a different level of the industry.

Question #2: How do I cold-call A&R people, managers, and others who I want to listen to my music?
Answer: You don’t. In my Music Publishing 101 class at Berkleemusic.com, we don’t get to the subject of pitching music until halfway through the semester. Instead, the early weeks of Music Publishing 101 are devoted to laying the groundwork that will make the pitch effective. This means building a team of support around you– a music lawyer, a Writer Relations rep at ASCAP, BMI, or SESAC, a network of friends and colleagues in your local community that could include everyone from a music journalist to a studio owner to a radio programmer.

Just as importantly, it means researching and studying your music genre and identifying the major and minor artists in that world, the key labels (both major and independent), the A&R decision-makers, the managers, the radio stations, and the clubs. It means identifying what business strategies are the most effective in your market. In the pop-rock or indie band world, advertising placements can be crucial stepping-stones. In the heavy metal biz, video games are key. You have to be an expert in whatever field of music you’re pitching songs. That’s what gives you the right to bother someone else, who is also an expert of sorts, in the middle of his or her workday.

Only when you’ve established your team and network of business contacts will you be in a position to change a cold-call into a referral. Once you’ve decided who you want to approach with your music, you can then try to figure out if there’s someone on your team, or in your network, who might be able to make an introduction, or at least allow you to use their name as a reference. Obviously, the bigger your circle of supporters, the fewer real “cold-calls” you’ll make.

In the same way, proper research and understanding of your musical genre will ensure that you’re approaching the right people, and saying the things that they want to hear. If you understand the nuances of the business environment in which you’re working, know the background of the person with whom you’re speaking, and can show how your music fills a need in that person’s world, you can speak with the A&R person, manager or producer as a colleague. That’s not cold-calling. That’s connecting.

Question #3: How do I find time to get my music out to people– music supervisors, A&R, artist managers– when I’m so busy actually making and recording the music?
Answer: You don’t. The one thing I can tell you without any doubt, having been a songwriter, producer and music publisher for more than twenty years, is that every single thing that happens to you everyday will conspire to prevent you from actually getting songs sent out to the people that need to hear them. You will always be needed in the studio, or have to pick up the kids, or be exhausted from last night’s gig, or be stressed from tonight’s gig, or in need of a new computer, or SOMETHING. And each night, you will vow that tomorrow you really will get those songs sent out…

You will never find the time. There are no spare hours lying under the bed somewhere. Trust me- I’ve looked. The only hope that you have is to make the time. You will have to change your schedule, cut back on certain things, try to find an intern to help out, or figure out a way to run your business on the road. But one way or another, you must make the time to get songs sent out to the people that need to hear them. Because…

Your business depends on it. Without that, nothing happens. There is no music publisher anywhere that has built a business solely by doing administration and collecting money. At least in the beginning, someone has to get the music out to people who will use it.

What would you think of a widget-making company that invested solely in production–building a factory, hiring workers, making widgets– but had no sales team or strategy in place to sell the product? Yet, that’s what so many songwriters and music publishers do– retreating to their comfort zone of writing music, recording music, acquiring music and listening to music, until there’s no time left in the day to sell any of it. Check the number of songs sitting on your hard-drive and compare them to the amount of songs that were sent out this week. It may be happening to you.

The point of these negative answers to oft-asked questions is not to be discouraging. I’m a publisher too. I know that none of us need more discouragement. The point is to give a reality-check, and to adapt realistic strategies to our businesses.

It is the nature of show business to sell dreams, and this is one of the most prevalent– the sudden opportunity that leads to instant glory. I’m not saying it never happens. Almost every career is built on a few such unexpected moments. But it’s not a day to day strategy for approaching your business.

I heard a great story recently of a hard-working musician laboring in relative obscurity, who was playing in a band that recorded several records for small labels, none of which found any great success. However, one of the records was picked up by a dance music DJ and producer in another country, and began to garner some underground buzz. When that buzz led to more calls for material from the DJ-producer, he turned back to our friend the musician, who after more than a decade of playing and touring, had virtually given up on his band and was looking for a new line of work. But the musician answered the call for more material and sent it off to the DJ-producer, who then added his own magic touch. One of those tracks was recently released as the first single off a recent Madonna album, and it became a world-wide hit.

That’s the reality of the music business. Doing your work, getting the music out, meeting the right people and building on those contacts, as you slowly climb the ladder. Only then can you hope to finally get that lucky break that catapults you to the top.

Last question: When do you give up?
Answer: You dont. You just keep moving, one rung at a time.

Home | Help & Support | Products & Services | Tools & Resources | For Your Home

Verizon Privacy Policy | Copyright 2003 Verizon. All Rights Reserved.

Use of Verizon Online’s Internet access services and Web sites are subject to user compliance with our Policies.